Monday, September 15, 2014

Vertigo: An Optimistic Look At American History

The meaning of the history of America presented in “1929” is in one word, optimistic. The images show America being built and developed on the blood, sweat, tears and hard work of men who came over from Europe. One image, however, portrayed a man with a plow in one hand and a gun in the other with and Indian in the background. The early settlers of America had several violent confrontations with the Indians on a pretty regular basis. The image, however, portrayed the Indians as the aggressors of the violence as the American in the picture was painted to be minding his own business, plowing his field, only having the gun as a precaution. The image of the Americans fighting the British during the American Revolution is what I found most interesting.  In the top right-hand corner of the picture is what looks like several arrows on top of a very dark background. I viewed this as a hint that dark times were in the near future for this young nation.
The image of the wagons heading west could have seemed like a pretty average picture to someone with no prior knowledge of American history, however, the migration movements of Americans who headed west were anything but average. Lots of people lost their lives in search of opportunity to disease, Indian attacks, and other causes during this time period. The image doesn't show that, though. The image with the slaves in it also doesn't really tell the whole story. To someone without prior knowledge, that image would just look like a couple of men working to build a railroad, presumably for money, and not because they are slaves. In the final image, a man is shown gesturing his hand at what looks like the “final product” that is America with all of the things that have been built in the background. There is a cloud break and a great light is shining down on the nation, making it look like the perfect place. The show on American history then ends, subliminally proclaiming that the America now is perfect and without flaws. This is far from the truth, though, as even with a solid infrastructure and new technology being discovered in America quite frequently at this time period, there were still many problems in the future for this young nation.

Throughout the book, every scene besides the ones in “1929” look like they were happening at night. I’m not sure if that’s just the way it looked because all of the images were woodcuts or if they were supposed to look dark to show how flawed things were. The ones in “1929” were almost a form of propaganda, trying to force the idea that the history of America was righteous and for the most part peaceful. 


  1. I agree with you that the set of historical images act as a kind of propaganda, trying to show how America has built itself up to this bright image, but that it is far from the truth. The image of the farmer defending his farmland definitely sets up the feeling that America is all about what is ours and never letting anyone take that away, regardless of the fact that we took it from someone in the first place. You mention how positive feeling is jaded with the image of the slaves on the railroad. How does that reflect on those in power, and how they are simply piggybacking on the work of others? And if they are in power what does that say about America's real future?

    Something you can expand on is the use of the images after the railroad, showing how industrialism is taking over America. What do they show about the direction America is taking under the current leadership? You make a good point about the man passing off the bright image as a finished product being false, but you could also use more detail to back this up. How exactly do the images point to this corruption? I think some of the later historical images help with how they show that the industry is polluting America, does that act as a kind of foreshadowing?

  2. This essay only ambivalently engages in the prompt. It's a reasonable analysis of the "pocket history" itself (as it should be, since we went over this material pretty heavily in class last time) - but rather than being principally about how the "pocket history" impacts our reading of the rest of the book, you barely touch on what is supposed to be heart of the prompt.